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Video game publishers and developers are cutting off Russia, too

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The global business community is increasingly moving to isolate Russia for the war it’s waging in Ukraine, and video games are no exception.

Even as NATO and NATO-aligned forces have yet to engage in direct combat, economy-shattering sanctions have cut Russia off from goods and services that many of us take for granted, from vacation rentals to basic internet service.

Here’s a rundown of what we’ve seen so far from key players in the video game space as efforts to isolate Russia have snowballed in the midst of Ukraine’s calls for the industry to take action.

How Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony have responded

Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony are the three biggest names in console gaming and they’ve all made moves to cut off Russia, at least to some extent.

In the case of Microsoft, the U.S.-based company has suspended all new sales — not just games and gaming hardware — as it complies with the economic sanctions set in place by the federal government. Brad Smith, president and vice chair at Microsoft, suggested further actions could be taken.

“We believe we are most effective in aiding Ukraine when we take concrete steps in coordination with the decisions being made by these governments and we will take additional steps as this situation continues to evolve,” Smith wrote in a company blog post. He added that the top priority for Microsoft, which also produces Windows, is protecting Ukraine’s cybersecurity.

Nintendo, which is headquarter in Japan, suspended sales in the company’s eShop online store, but seemingly not because of any direct action taken on the company’s part. A translated support page from Nintendo’s Russian website blames the eShop’s payment services for not processing payments made in rubles, Russia’s currency, and notes that the eShop is in “maintenance mode.”

Meanwhile, Sony appears to have canceled or indefinitely delayed the PlayStation 5 release of Gran Turismo 7, the latest entry in the console’s flagship car racing series. It doesn’t show up in the Russian version of the PlayStation Store.

On March 9, the company officially confirmed that action had been taken, both to shut down the GT7 launch in Russia and to take the PlayStation Store offline. All software and hardware shipments have also been suspended.

“Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) joins the global community in calling for peace in Ukraine,” a company spokesperson told CNBC. “To support humanitarian aid, Sony Group Corporation announced a $2 million donation to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the international NGO, Save the Children, to support the victims of this tragedy.”

Industry heavyweights Nvidia, Activision Blizzard, more respond

The actions taken across the industry aren’t just limited to console hardware players. Major publishers and studios have also responded in their own ways.

Graphics card manufacturer Nvidia told PC Magazine on Friday that “[w]e are not selling into Russia.” The move corresponds with similar actions taken by Intel and AMD; the two chip-makers have both suspended sales of their products to Russia and its ally in the invasion, Belarus.

A number of key players on the software side have also made moves. Call of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard has suspended sales “of and in” its games in Russia, which covers both the games themselves and any purchases that can be made in each one. The company is also juicing up employee contributions made to Ukrainian relief efforts by matching them 2:1

Electronic Arts, meanwhile, first took the step of removing Russian teams from its most recent FIFA and NHL games. Days later, the company joined others in halting sales of its games and in-game content in Russia and Belarus.

“We have made the decision to stop sales of our games and content, including virtual currency bundles, in Russia and Belarus while this conflict continues. As a result, our games and content will no longer be available for purchase in our Russian region storefront on Origin or the EA app, including through in-game stores,” a statement from EA reads. “We are also working with our platform partners to remove our titles from their stores and stop the sale of new in-game content in the region.”

Ubisoft, the French publisher of the Assassin’s Creed series (among others), hasn’t made any public proclamations about halting sales. However, the company did release a statement specifically directed at “the teams and the people of Ukraine.” Ubi maintains a studio in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

“Our top priority is to take care of the safety and wellbeing of our teams and their families. Over the past months, Ubisoft has been closely monitoring the situation, and our primary focus has been the security of our teams,” the March 1 statement reads.

“As events escalated in mid-February, Ubisoft recommended all teams take shelter in a place they considered safe. To support them as they made these difficult decisions, each team member was provided additional funds to help cover exceptional costs and paid their salary in advance to account for any potential disruption to banking systems.”

The publisher said it also donated 200,000 euros to the Ukrainian Red Cross and Save the Children “to meet the urgent needs of the Ukrainian people.”

In an email Monday, a Ubisoft spokesperson confirmed that the publisher is also moving to halt sales. “In light of the ongoing tragedy in Ukraine, we have decided to suspend our sales in Russia,” the statement sent to Mashable read.

Alan Lewis, spokesperson at Take-Two Interactive (which owns 2K Games and Rockstar Games), said the company has “watched recent events unfold in Ukraine with concern and sadness.”

“After significant consideration, last week, we decided to stop new sales, installations, and marketing support across all our labels in Russia and Belarus at this time,” he said in a statement.

A number of the industry’s larger publishers have been conspicuously absent as calls for private interests to take action have grown louder. To name just a few: Capcom, Bandai Namco and Sega have yet to address the situation publicly. Mashable has reached out to those that we can for statements and specifics.

China-based publishers Tencent and NetEase have also steered clear of the conflict thus far. In the case of Tencent, which also owns the messaging platforms WeChat and Weixin, the situation is a little bit clearer. As Insider reported on March 6, the company has primarily appealed to its messaging app users to remain objective when it comes to sensitive topics. China, it should be noted, has historically maintained friendly ties with the ideologically similar Russian government.

Niantic, the developer behind the mobile hit Pokémon Go, joined with other industry interests on March 10 in cutting off Russia-based customers. The studio’s games have been pulled from Russian marketplaces and the games themselves — which are all location-based experiences that utilize GPS features — are no longer functional.

Epic Games, CD Projekt Red and others weigh in

Fortnite maker Epic Games, which also owns and operates the Epic Games Store, made its position clear in a tweet on Friday. “Epic is stopping commerce with Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. We’re not blocking access for the same reason other communication tools remain online: the free world should keep all lines of dialogue open.

CD Projekt Red, the Polish developer behind Cyberpunk 2077 and owner of the online games store GOG, took a similar action. Poland, a NATO member nation which borders both Ukraine and Russian ally Belarus, has been supportive of efforts to resist the Russian offensive and offered refuge to displaced Ukrainians.

“In light of the Russian military invasion in our neighboring country of Ukraine, until further notice the CD Projekt Group has made the decision to halt all sales of our games to Russia and Belarus,” the statement reads. “Today, we begin working with our partners to suspend digital sales and cease physical stock deliveries of CD Projekt Group products, as well as all games distributed on the GOG platform, to the territories of Russia and Belarus.”

One notable absence here is Steam and its owner, Valve Corporation. The enduring online storefront for PC games is still available in Russian, but that’s a language setting rather than a region setting on the website. Valve hasn’t outwardly addressed the conflict at all, though anecdotal reports suggest that using the platform right now in Russia has been complicated by payment providers suspending services there — a lineup which now includes PayPal as well.

Bloober Team, another Poland-based studio, also weighed in on Russia’s hostilities and pledged to halt sales of its games — which include Blair Witch and The Medium — in Belarus and Russia. And while Valve hasn’t apparently taken any direct action with Steam’s availability in Russia, Bloober’s statement makes it clear that game makers and publishers have the power to pull products themselves, as well.

“We’ve been working with our partners to put the games down from the stores in these countries – the ban coming into effect first on Steam,” a tweet from Bloober’s thread notes. “Our hearts are with the Ukrainian people and this is one of several steps we’re currently taking to support them.”

The Pokémon Company is partially owned by Nintendo, along with two other Japanese companies (Game Freak and Creatures), so it’s not clear who would make the final call on any decision to suspend sales in Russia. But The Pokémon Company did make a statement and a donation aimed at helping those impacted by the ongoing conflict. It is, however, a carefully worded statement that skirts around any direct mention of Russia by name.

“The Pokémon Company International is making an immediate [$200,000 donation] to our partners at GlobalGiving to provide humanitarian relief,” the statement reads. “The nonprofit will efficiently direct the funds to community-led organizations supporting families and children affected by the crisis.”

The Ukraine-based game developer behind the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, GSC Game World, has unsurprisingly shifted away from the work of making video games while its country is under siege. In a video released Wednesday, the voiceless captions explain that “we are striving to help our employees and their families to survive” while expressing hope that their work will continue after Ukraine’s victory of Russia.

At least some of these actions may have been prompted by the Ukraine government’s direct appeal for help. On Wednesday, Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov — whose Twitter profile also tags him as Ukraine’s “Minister of Digital Transformation” — shared a letter asking the games industry and community to “temporarily block all Russian and Belorussian accounts, temporarily stop the participation of Russian and Belorussian teams and gamers in all international esports events, and cancel all international events [held in] the territory of Russia and Belarus.”

Fedorov directed the tweet at the official accounts for Xbox and PlayStation.

Mashable has reached out, where possible, to all parties mentioned here that haven’t taken a stance. It’s expected that those and others will take first or additional steps as the calls for help increase in volume, intensity, and reach. We’ll keep this story updated as new information develops.

UPDATE: Mar. 7, 2022, 11:28 a.m. EST Added Ubisoft’s statement on halting sales in Russia.

UPDATE: Mar. 9, 2022, 4:46 p.m. EST Added Sony’s statement confirming the suspension of shipments to Russia and PlayStation Store access in Russia.

UPDATE: Mar. 12, 2022, 4:29 p.m. EST Added Niantic’s statement confirming the suspension of game sales and services in Russia.

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